“Put your name on your paper”. It’s literally the first thing you are taught. Even as a high school teacher, I repeatedly say “no name, no fame”. But I’m the kid that totally ignores the teacher. I procrastinate signing my art. Guilty as charged. Why do I put it off? What’s all the fuss with signatures? What’s in a name, anyway? Apparently, a lot.
It was a big deal during the Renaissance for individual artists to sign their art. Before that, artists often worked in collective guilds. Historically, signatures can provide authenticity to an artwork. I recently watched the show Fake or Fortune (highly recommended). In Season 4, episode 2, there is dispute over the legitimacy of a Renoir because he never signed it! The provenance (the lineage) is easier to maintain with a legitimate signature.
Typically, the last time an artist puts brush to painting is to sign it. The act of signing may be the culmination of hours, days or months’ worth of work. When I sign, it’s like the entire process flashes before my eyes. So many thoughts and decisions go into a work. Often, as an artist, it’s sometimes hard to know when the work is finished. Inevitably, though, every painting says, “I’m done, please, no more!” An artist friend looked at my signature once and thought I was signing it to mimic that of a Grandma Moses because it is so primitive, lacking any artistic flair! I laughed, “No,” I said. “It’s just my name”. But then I got to thinking. I sign my work L. David. I often wonder if I should just sign David, and if changing the style is acceptable so I did some research. Yes! Turns out, artists signatures evolve over time. And it’s about time my signature changes. Maybe on the next painting.
So, you are done with your painting and ready to sign. How? Where? Are there rules? Standards? Yes, and no. Typically, a work is signed in the lower right or left corner in the same media the work was created in. The size is similar to the signature on a check. Some artists only sign their last name. Others sign the first letter of their first name, and their last name. Some sign meticulously. Their signatures are works of art. Others use an illegible scribble. It is preferred by the art establishment that the signature be legible. Art collectors and patrons want art that is signed and legible. If they are spending big bucks on a work, they want bragging rights and a legible signature helps. The signature should not dominate or take attention away from the art.
Studio painters may wait until the painting is dry before signing. This allows more control with the brush. Plein air painters don’t have that luxury. They typically will sign on location by inscribing the work or simply signing wet on wet (alla prima). Collectors are thrilled when the artist indicates (on the back) where the piece was painted and perhaps a bit of information to go along with it. For example, I painted this today and inscribed it with a rubber tipped tool. It was painted partially from my car and partially from just outside my car. It wasn’t cold, a balmy 34 degrees. It was at Gurney Park, in Glens Falls, NY, just inside the Adirondack Park. Lucky for me, there was a sledding birthday party. I didn’t bring any cadmium yellow and had to make the best with the colors I had. The kids were screaming and laughing as they sped down the hill. While I painted, my husband rode his mountain bike on nearby trails. t took about an hour and fifteen minutes to complete. So, now you know the story.
Eighteenth century landscape artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot has the distinction of being the most forged artist of all time. Art news reports “Corot (1796–1875) was extremely prolific: he produced some 3,000 paintings and roughly the same number of drawings”, Dieterle says. Even today, real Corots still come to light “in someone’s attic or basement, at a flea market or estate sale.”
I find art forgery fascinating! Christies auction house has a great article about signing art.
True Story: I recently delivered some work to a gallery. Lucky for me, a customer wanted to purchase one just a day later! I received a call asking me to come in; apparently, I forgot to sign the painting. I apologized profusely and the gallery said not to worry, it happens often. Looks like we need to add one more thing to the artist’s checklist! And remember, no name, no fame!